Costal migration may cause evacuation problems

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More people are moving to coastal areas in the United States, which may pose an evacuation problem in the case of a natural disaster.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report showing an overview of coastal population trends from 1980 to 2003 and population projections for 2008.

According to Kristen Cossett, co-author of the study, approximately 153 million people, about 53 percent of the entire U.S population, lived in U.S coastal areas in 2003. There has been a population increase of about 33 million people in coastal areas since 1980. It is expected that by 2005, that number will rise by another 7 million people, and by 2015, it will rise by 12 million, Cossett said.

While coastal counties are home to 53 percent of the national population, those coastal counties comprise only 17 percent of the total land area, Cossett said

But with the rise in coastal population comes complications that may arise during natural disasters, such as making evacuations and emergency responses more complex, Cossett said.

“Anywhere there’s more people, there’s more planning involved,” Cossett said.

Ben Sherman, a NOAA spokesperson, said some solutions that may help coastal management make decisions in these types of emergency situations are to call for earlier evacuations and vertical evacuations.

Vertical evacuations, where people are moved upward in high-rise buildings above the expected water level, would save many lives in a tsunami, Sherman said.

Although there would still be much property damage, it would drastically reduce the loss of lives that would otherwise occur, he said.

“Because there is limited time to evacuate in these situations, sending (people) up higher would help reduce the loss and injury to people during a tsunami,” Sherman said.

And although these coastal areas attract many seasonal visitors, a large number of Americans moving to the coastal areas are reaching retirement age, which means they may be staying for longer periods of time, rather than just vacationing.

Edward Ruiz, junior business major, said some members of his family live in Utah, but vacation in a home near the coast annually, and plan to move there when they retire.

Ruiz said natural disasters were never really a concern until Asia was devastated by a tsunami in December.

It has made his family think twice about where to move, he said.

“Anywhere you live in the world, you are putting yourself at risk for some kind of natural disaster,” Ruiz said. “But because we live in an area where earthquakes and tsunamis are a realistic possibility, I would hope we could come up with better strategies and ways to prepare in case of an emergency.”

Cossett said Los Angeles has had the greatest population growth since 1980.

The report showed that six of the 10 coastal counties with the highest population increase were in California.

The report also projected San Diego would have the leading population increase by 2008.